By Courtney Potter
We here at D23 love Beauty and the Beast! And what’s not to enjoy, right? The charming love story; the fantastic music; the colorful, memorable (not to mention technologically advanced) animation… But just when we thought we knew all there was to know about Belle, Beast, Gaston, and all their cohorts, we were privy to a recent, very special conversation with several Beauty animators—including Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, and Mark Henn.
Lucky for us, from that conversation came a slew of fascinating (and little-known) facts about the film. Read on for some trivia tidbits that are sure to impress your fellow Beauty and the Beast fans!
1. Character inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of places.
Andreas Deja took animated inspiration for the Beauty and the Beast character he was charged with creating—Gaston—from another Disney classic, though it’s not one you’d expect. “There was a villain that was handsome—in a ‘cartoony’ way, but really well drawn—in the ‘Brom Bones’ section of Disney’s 1949 short The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” he explains. “And when I re-watched that footage, I thought, ‘Boy—physically, there’s something there… There’s a lot of weight there. I like the way the anatomy’s drawn. It’s simple, but it reads.’ So I studied that character quite a bit.” And as for Gaston’s “swagger,” Deja looked no further than some Los Angeles-area gyms! “You go and you workout and you look at these guys checking themselves in the mirror,” recalls Andreas, “doing this kind of ‘Yeah, looking good’ [routine]. It’s all in there… It’s actually real. That character is real—or at least, that aspect to him is real.”
2. The impact of Beauty and the Beast’s Best Picture Oscar® nomination—the first for any animated film—was not lost on its animators…
It was truly a life-altering moment—not just for Walt Disney Animation, but for the animators themselves. “It had been a while since animation really was in its ‘heyday,’” admits Keane. “And now, Beauty and the Beast was all over—on the cover of cereal boxes and whatnot… And to have that final kind of authoritative stamp of approval by the Academy—to have it nominated for Best Picture—it really meant a lot to all of us, as a team.”
Henn agrees, adding, “I think that it was just a validation [that] we take these films very seriously… we have a lot of fun doing it, but the art form—this whole thing about Disney animation is something that’s very near and dear to our hearts. And to finally have that kind of validation from an outside, well-respected entity like the Academy… it was just nice to finally have that recognition.” And despite the fact that the film didn’t win that year, Henn is still appreciative of the experience. “I’m sorry we didn’t win,” he explains, “but on the other hand, I’m not too disappointed—because I felt like I think we can do better, you know? Because we’re always looking ahead…
3. Even animators need to blow off some steam!
Animators are often under a fair amount of pressure—making sure things are done in a timely fashion, and adhering to a strict filmmaking schedule. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t time for a little fun. As Keane recalls: “I brought in a big slingshot one day. It was one of these big things where you had two people on either side hold it. And Beauty and the Beast was set up [in such a way] that the production was in one big room… there were offices on the sides, but a lot of people were out [in cubicles] in the middle. And so we started buying these chocolate donuts that were in the vending machine and putting them in the slingshot! We found that if you fired them, you could actually stick ’em on the wall all the way across the [room]. It wasn’t very popular because food started breaking apart in flight and landing on people’s drawings and everything.”
4. Disney’s past absolutely influenced Beauty and the Beast.
Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men” were the company’s core group of early animators—the Disney Legends responsible for such iconic films as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, and Alice in Wonderland. Were they an influence on Beauty’s animators? “Well, the simple answer is yes,” Henn admits. “Eric Larson was our primary mentor throughout probably the first half a dozen years of our career… and Andreas had the opportunity to work with Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.” “They were still around,” Deja continues. “They weren’t working at the studio anymore. In those days, I think seven of them were still around… Frank and Ollie were coming for lectures once in a while. Ward Kimball doing the same thing… ”
Keane remembers, “My mentor started off as Eric Larson, because everybody would go into his bullpen—where he was the most patient, gentle teacher possible… His explanations were so clear and simple. You would walk in and you just had this swirling cloud of confusion [about] how to animate something. And there’s all these principles, and it’s just all a mess. Eric would get in and just sit down at his desk and put your drawings there and then he would start to draw little red lines. A simple art of movement. And [he’d] grab two drawings out of your, maybe, 35 confusing ones and say ‘There’s something in this’… They gave you training wheels so that you couldn’t fail. They would do enough of the work and let you fill in. And it was just an absolute incredible gift.”
5. Disney characters impact audiences around the world… in sometimes surprising ways!
“A few years ago, I found out that a friend of a friend of mine, who lives in France, was a young actor who was motivated to become one based on [seeing] Gaston [in Beauty and the Beast],” explains Deja. “He saw the film when he was a kid and he had sort of this obsession with that character. So he ended up playing Gaston in Paris on stage! I went and saw it. He did a really fantastic job too… And not only that, but he’s also got a small part in the live-action version that’s coming out next year. He’s not playing Gaston, but he has got a part in it. So, you [never know] what an impact your character might have on somebody… ”
Don’t forget: Keep an eye on D23’s Fanniversary page all month long for more fantastic Beauty and the Beast fun!
For more with Mark, Andreas, and Glen, check out the Fall 2016 issue of Disney twenty-three, available exclusively to D23 Gold Members.